I have read somewhere that the best/easiest way to watch meteor showers is to lie on the ground or other horizontal surface with your feet oriented towards the "apparent point of origin" (what was that called again?) of the shower and just relax while having eyes open to the heavens.

Last November I actually tried this method to watch the Leonids and I did see some nice meteors where I have not really consciously seen any before. (Which was probably because I had not watched a meteor shower before purposefully, I guess.)

Is this really the best way for amateurs to watch a meteor shower with the naked eye? What might be other/better ways? How about when you use binoculars? Or would that just limit your field of vision, making you be better of to just use eyes alone?

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    $\begingroup$ Of course it helps to try and be as far away as possible from the light pollution prevelant around most cities, but that is not what this question is about. $\endgroup$ – peSHIr Jun 6 '11 at 7:21

The only way to observe a meteor shower is naked eye. Any optical instrument will limit your field of view, and you will miss most of the meteors.

The location of the radiant in the sky has no bearing on where you will see meteors. People don't need to worry about exactly where the radiant is. Meteors can occur anywhere in the sky. If you look towards the radiant, the trails will be shorter; the longest trails are about 90° away from the radiant, which is most of the sky.

When I first got into astronomy back in the late '50s, the International Geophysical Year was in progress, and my club participated in a very active IGY meteor program. We observed many really obscure showers and also on selected nights with no showers, to act as a control. What I learned from that experience is that most showers have hardly any more meteors than a non-shower night. As a result, the only showers I bother watching deliberately are the Perseids in August, the Geminids in December, and maybe the Leonids in November if a peak is predicted. These are the only showers where you see enough meteors to make it worth your while. I see enough sporadic meteors just about every night I'm observing that I get enough meteor "fixes" all year round.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the 90° from the radiant tip. I assume longer trails will look "cooler" (yes, that's the scientific term ;-)), so I'll try that on a next try. $\endgroup$ – peSHIr Jun 9 '11 at 6:14
  • $\begingroup$ Definitely. You can't beat lying on your back for the experience or romance. About the only way you could do any "better" is with an automated camera with a fisheye lens, like the SBIG AllSky-340. That's no amateur piece of equipment. sbig.com/sbwhtmls/announce_allsky-340.htm $\endgroup$ – Andrew Jun 15 '11 at 22:27

It's been a while since I set out specifically to watch a meteor shower but back when I used to do so I would typically watch in a prone position. Either lying on a blanket or slightly inclined on a folding lounge chair (and sometimes lying on a picnic table.

The main reason, at least for me, is that you want to try to see as much of the visible sky as possible with as little strain as possible. Sitting in a normal folding chair, half of your field of view is going to be ground where there is no chance of seeing a meteor :). To see the full sky with that type of chair you have to crane your neck back which can get uncomfortable for a full night of skywatching.

Having your feet toward the radiant (the "appearant point of origin") is generally a good idea since you will see more meteors in that general direction and aligning yourself that way naturally has you looking in the right direction, especially if you are lying on something slightly inclined.

Naked eye observation is definitely perfered as using any sort of binoculars or telescopes ot cameras limits your field of view. Viewing with the unaided eye effective allows you to see the entire sky. Just lay back, relax and look at the sky above you. You will probably catch many meteors in your peripherial vision, in many cases ones you wouldn't have seen in looking straight at them as your peripherial vision has a higher sensitivity (can see fainter objects) than your direct on vision.

In the end, what is best is what makes you comforatable and makes the experience enjoyable.


If you are watching just for enjoyment, get a comfortable deck chair (which is nicely reclined), warm clothes and a dark site. Using binoculars will limit your field of view, and because meteors are short-lived you will end up missing a lot of the action.

If you are watching a shower and taking part in a meteor count, you need to sit in a circle of about six people, not move your head and try not to look outside of the 60 degree field of view. You should observe for about an hour. Any less and you won't have the benefit of dark adaption, any more and you will start seeing spurious meteors out of the corner of your eyes ;)


Another good method to watch meteor showers is with a blow up raft that you can get pretty much anywhere. Blow it up, lay it on the ground and then lay flat on it. You get a pretty good view of the sky from that vantage point.


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